The celebration didn’t last long.

The Ohio State women’s basketball team earned its biggest victory in Kevin McGuff’s four-season tenure Monday when it defeated No. 2 Maryland 98-87. But in the jubilant locker room, eyes were already on a bigger prize.

The 12th-ranked Buckeyes (24-5, 14-1 Big Ten) can earn at least a share of their first Big Ten championship since 2010 with a victory today at Rutgers.

“Even in his speech after the game, he was excited,” senior Shayla Cooper said of McGuff, “but then he was like, ‘Hey, you have to stay focused for what’s next. We’re not done yet. You’ve got to stay focused. You can’t dwell on it too much or you’ll get a big head and what happened last year will happen again.’ ”

A year ago, the Buckeyes had a Big Ten regular-season title within their reach. But it slipped away in overtime losses at Minnesota and Michigan State.

“I think this team is mentally tougher,” Cooper said.

On paper, Rutgers (6-22, 3-12) doesn’t figure to derail the Buckeyes. The Scarlet Knights, coached by legendary C. Vivian Stringer, have lost nine straight. But McGuff is expecting a battle.

“They’re a really tough, rugged, physical team,” McGuff said. “They throw a variety of defenses at you, and they play particularly well at home.

“They’ve got a lot of pride, and they know what we’re playing for. They’re going to do everything they can to try to stop us from getting it.”

The Buckeyes showed their mettle against Maryland, winning without leading rebounder and second-leading scorer Stephanie Muvanga, who remains out with a foot injury. McGuff said there’s “a good chance” Muvanga will return for the start of the NCAA Tournament.

Tori McCoy and Alexa Hart played well in Mavunga’s absence.

“That was impressive,” McGuff said. “I was really happy for Lex and Tori. Stephanie is such a great player and we miss her, but we have other great players and it was nice to see them step up.”

The Buckeyes have won 10 straight games. They have scored at least 87 points in their past eight.

“I really feel we’re jelling at the right time,” sophomore guard Sierra Calhoun said.

Maryland was evidence of that, but the Buckeyes understand after what happened a year ago that the present is what matters.

“Anytime you have a chance to go through it for a second time, you can gain some valuable insight,” McGuff said.

 

brabinowitz@dispatch.com

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